Harry Potter and The Order of the Phoenix by J.K. Rowling is the fifth book in the series. I thought that, while slow in its early parts and a bit on the long side, the book was very good and that it ended on a very strong note. I found that Rowling displayed some of her best writing and characterization in the last part of the book.
During the first two thirds of the story, very little new happens. The narrative mostly consists of Harry’s day to day interactions at Hogwarts. The evil Voldemort is still hovering around the edges of the story. He seems be establishing a psychic connection to Harry. A group of adult wizards, known as the Order of the Phoenix, has reformed and is dedicated to fighting Voldemort. The order consists mostly of Harry’s adult friends who are at odds with other wizards that are in denial about Voldemort’s return. This time around, Harry’s enemies at school have gained in power and are making life miserable for the young protagonist. Even Harry’s friends seem to be underappreciating him. Harry reacts with some resentment and lashes out a bit. Though he encountered bullying and really bad treatment from both his peers and adults in all of the books, the escalating and constant parade of bad treatment and even abuse that Harry suffers in this book is a major plot point.
Things pick up in the latter third of the book. There is an epic battle between Harry and his friends and Voldemort’s supporters that becomes brutal. Harry’s surrogate father, Sirius Black, is killed. Some of his friends are seriously injured, and Harry is exposed to other shocks. Harry responds by displaying serious grief, anger and perhaps some signs of post -traumatic stress syndrome.
As in Harry Potter and The Goblet of Fire, the story has turned darker. Tales of Voldemort’s torture and murders abound. Malicious teachers and students begin to run rampant at Hogwarts. The authoritarian Professor Umbridge wrests control of the school from the benevolent Albus Dumbledore and begins meting out physical abuse upon Harry and others.
This is the longest novel in the series so far. The book does seem long. At times, the plot feels like it is meandering on. I agree with what I have heard from others that this novel would have been better if it was shorter.
I thought that the book got a lot better in its last third. First, Rowling introduces several interesting ideas. One particularly intriguing concept involves bullying and the way in which people fall into being the perpetrators of it. Throughout the series, Harry and his friends are targeted by bullies on every level. Harry’s family, his school peers and some teachers are merciless bullies. In this book, these folks find that their power to be on the rise and the vitriol that they direct at Harry is redoubled. Things take a further ironic turn. At one point, Harry, gains access to Professor Severus Snape’s memories. He is shown a vision of Hogwarts twenty in the past where he sees that his father, James Potter, as well as the beloved Sirius Black, were themselves bullies and tormented an adolescent Snape. Harry observes as Snape is targeted,
Snape’s wand flew twelve feet into the air and fell with a little thud in the grass behind him. Sirius let out a bark of laughter.
‘Impedimenta!’ he said, pointing his wand at Snape, who was knocked off his feet halfway through a dive towards his own fallen wand.
Students all around had turned to watch. Some of them had got to their feet and were edging nearer. Some looked apprehensive, others entertained…
‘How’d the exam go, Snivelly?’ said James.
‘I was watching him, his nose was touching the parchment,’ said Sirius viciously. ‘There’ll be great grease marks all over it, they won’t be able to read a word.’
Several people watching laughed; Snape was clearly unpopular. Wormtail sniggered shrilly. Snape was trying to get up, but the jinx was still operating on him; he was struggling, as though bound by invisible ropes.
‘You – wait,’ he panted, staring up at James with an expression of purest loathing, ‘you – wait!’
‘Wait for what?’ said Sirius coolly. ‘What’re you going to do, Snivelly, wipe your nose on us?’
Snape let out a stream of mixed swear words and hexes, but with his wand ten feet away nothing happened.
‘Wash out your mouth,’ said James coldly. ‘Scourgify!’
Pink soap bubbles streamed from Snape’s mouth at once; the froth was covering his lips, making him gag, choking him
In the present day, Snape is now a bitter and angry character who bullies Harry to the point where it can be described as verbal abuse. (Snape’s character is much nastier in the books as opposed to how he was depicted in the films). However, in the above passage, Harry comes to understand why Snape has come to hate the Potter family.
Later, Harry confronts Sirius about the incident. Sirius guilty explains that it occurred a long time ago and attempts to rationalize it in other ways. It seems that Rowling is saying that there are a lot of people who did very questionable things in the past. Even those who we idolize are imperfect. She also seems to be observing how easy it is for some to fall into the role of a bully. I thought that this plot twist was very well done and added depth to this story.
This book continues the somewhat dark trend and introduces some more complex themes that are in line with what I wrote about Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire here. I think that Rowling continues to draw parallels with her wizarding world and the real world. At one point, Dumbledore observes how non-human creatures, such as elves, giants, goblins etc. have been terribly treated by human wizards throughout the centuries. Some of these creatures are now joining Voldemort. This situation seems akin to the treatment and ensuing consequences of non-Western peoples by the West.
As noted above, the novel ends very strongly. The interesting and complex themes that I mention above come to the forefront. There is a magical battle between Harry and his friends on one side and Voldemort’s followers on the other. The fight is superbly written and conveys the chaos and violence that is inherent in a real-life street fight. This fracas is one of the highlights of the novel.
Though this book starts out a bit tedious and unoriginal, it eventually gets very good. Some interesting themes are also introduced. Rowling also displays some of her best chops towards the ending. This is another entertaining entry in the series.
This is the only HP novel where, for me, once was almost enough. I've read it the least times of the other ones. I found it depressing.
Hi Stephen- The abuse that Harry takes from all sides can be a downer. On the other hand I appreciate the increased complexity.
it's been stimulating following your epic journey through Potterland... i read the first book once and am mightily nudged to read them all... maybe after your final essay, i will! tx for your effort...
Thanks Muddpuddle - I an actuallly Reading the last book now. I am finding that it has been worth it.
I read this one on the first day it appeared in the shops. My review copy hadn’t arrived yet and I wasn’t going to wait. I had plenty of people to discuss it with - in fact, I was at a science fiction convention that weekend, doing a Harry Potter panel on Sunday morning(it was out on Saturday). It was 9.00 am, when fans are normally sleeping late after a night of partying, but the hall was full. Everyone wanted to discuss it.
Harry yelled so much in this one, I rather think if it had been typed on a typewriter the author would have had a keyboard jammed on CAPS LOCK. And stuck on exclamation marks!!!
By the way Dolores Umbridge is more believable than you might think. I had to work with a woman very like her once, who was our campus Principal, and you had better believe that if she’d been allowed to inflict corporal punishment on the kids she would have done it. As it was, she contented herself with bullying, all the time with that sweet smile...
Which of the five you've read so far was your favorite?
I hate to mention that I've never read Harry Potter, but it's only because I have had a tendency to shy away from novels of fantasy. I know HP is so much more than just fantasy. But sometimes I think I'll try, at least the first one.
Hi Sue - These books created, and continue to create such a sensation. I understood why Harry yelled so much in this book. He really took so much flack from so many sides. Many teenagers would have reacted with a lot more anger and even aggression then Harry did.
I agree that there are proper out there who are like Dolores Umbridge. The combination of seemingly oversewed manors and mannerisms and the need to be controlling is a real personality combination.
Hi Judith - I have read a fair amount of fantasy over the years and I also tend to just stay with the classics,
My favorite was the first book. I usually rate the first book in most series as my favorite. I tend to value originality a lot.
Interesting review, Brian. I wonder if Rowling was attempting to create her own mythic world as Tolkien was?
Hi Sharon- Without a doubt, Rowling was trying to create a mythic world like Tolkien by this point. She included all sorts of references to past events, characters, etc. She also did a lot of interconnecting of these things. Though I do not think her world is quite as rich as Tolkien’s, it is imaginative and impressive.
Hi Brian, Usually with young adult/children's novels either grown ups like the books or teenagers do and so it speaks to how well J K Rowling wrote this series that millions of children and adults are fans around the world.
Hi Kathy - I am closing in on the ending at this point. It is safe to say that I think the entire series is worthy of adult reading.
I admire your persistence in pursuit of completion of this series and your excellent commentaries. I'm not sure I will return to it any time soon.
I've read a Rowling mystery and I agree she tends to write long when shorter would suffice much better. She meanders when her tighter scenes are stronger. Still I'm glad the end of this book finished strong for you. There is a lot of bullying going on ... and good vs. evil right?
What I remember about this one is that Harry is in a bad mood through most of the story. And this is where I stopped. But knowing your review of The Half-Blood Prince will be coming soon, I pulled it from my shelves and put it on my coming soon pile. I am kind of excited to get on with the series and take it to the end.
Thanks James - I am enjoying them so I am sticking with the series.
Hi Susan - The basis for the entire series id good versus evil. I found the bullying to actually be frustrating. This book should could have used more editing.
Hi Judy _ I empathized with Harry's frustration here. I would not have behaved as well he he did here. It would be cool if you finished the last two books now.
Hi Brian, so true, what you say here. I've known several people who have objected to Harry's angsty moodiness in this book, but considering all that was happening, who can blame him? The PTSD and grief moments towards the end are very poignant, as is the revelation about bullying in the previous generation. It's a very memorable installment, also because it includes my least favourite DADA teacher, Professor Umbridge.
Hi Paula - Indeed , if I were Harry I would have actually carried things a lot further. This is true of both my 15 year old self and my older self.
Umbridge is indeed ghastly and is part of the abuse a bullying problem.
Okay … big question here … why should I as a septuagenarian reads books written for children? I'm ready to read something different but need some good reasons. Well?
Hi RT. Good to see you back. I am 52. I am enjoying the books but...I think thaf one needs to like fantasy, along the lines of Lord of the Rings going in. I also say that there is some depth to these books, but the depth is in limited. Thus I think that you should only read them knowing these things going in.
Excellent commentary! Thanks for sharing your honest thoughts. I haven't read this HP book, but I enjoyed reading your review. Your commentary about bullies and bullying int he book is especially fascinating.
Thanks Suko. Bullying and resistance to bullying is a major theme of the entire series.
"Rowling displayed some of her best writing and characterization in the last part of the book."
I put this one down about halfway through and never finished the series, so now I see I was missing out.
I do remember that Umbridge made for a very effective villain, with her superficial niceness and insistence on law and order masking cruelty and a hunger for power. Recently, when I started watching Star Trek DS9, Kai Winn brought Umbridge to mind; though they aren't quite the same, there's that ruthless authoritarian quality masked by "doing good" in each of them.
Hi Hila - I thought thaf it did get better. I think the point about Kai Winn is s great one. I am s big DS 9 fan and as I think about it I think that there are a lot of similarities between the characters. Louise Fletcher did a great job in thaf role.
i am amazed with your deep interest in fantasy read dear Brain!
incredible review !
you have covered all the area of topic brilliantly .
this is nice that after dull start ,novel gets on track .
i am specially interested in earlier part of harry's life where he faced brutal behavior of his guardians
writer built up his personality on obvious bases and they were very natural
thank you for great blog and insightful reviews always my friend!
Thanks Baili. I have always enjoyed fantasy. I hand stuck to the classic and popular books in this genre.
Harry’s dealing witch bullying and abuse has been a key component of this series and a major developer of his personality.
Great discussion as always Brian. And yes, I remember the bullying being a large part here and it was almost hard to believe that Harry's dad and Sirius were bullying Snape like that. But like you mention, it's a great lesson inserted by Rowling about how people grow up and change and that no one is perfect. I found that Snape really bullies Harry so much, it is verbally abusive.
Interesting take on on-human creatures and the human wizards in comparison to real life.
Thanks for a great post as usual! Enjoy your week.
Hi Naida - Bullying is very key to these stories. There are also a lot of parallels and the real world.
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